Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pad Thai

We've had a few weeks of illness around here, and while we have been feeding ourselves reasonably well (all things considered), blogging about those nourishing meals tended to fall by the wayside. It seems we're finally back on our feet, so maybe Blackwood Eats will get back on track as well.

Jeff recently took a trip to the Silver Wok Asian Gourmet in Mariakakis Plaza and brought home some rice stick noodles and tamarind pulp. I decided to try my hand at pad thai -- it's a dish I love the idea of (spicy... peanut-ty...yum!), but often find too sweet at restaurants, so I had high hopes for the diy approach. Plus, it gave me a chance to turn to one of my most beautiful cookbooks that, sadly, I rarely use: Hot Sour Salty Sweet: a culinary journey through southeast asia, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (worth buying for the photography alone).

I adapted the recipe slightly: I left out the pork (which I don't eat), used fresh shrimp instead of dried (which I didn't have) and threw in some shredded savoy cabbage with the scallions (because I needed to use it up). Other than that, I followed the recipe pretty much exactly, and the result was everything I hoped for: savory, spicy-hot, with a vinegar bite tempered by a hint of sweetness. Make sure to serve with all the accompaniments -- they add so much to the taste AND look great on the table!

Pad Thai
1/2 lb narrow dried rice noodles
1 1/2 T tamarind pulp
1 1/2 T soy sauce
1 1/2 T Thai fish sauce
3 large eggs
3 T peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz pressed tofu, cut into narrow strips an inch long
1/4 lb shrimp, peeled and chopped a little
1/2 lb mung bean sprouts
3 scallions, chopped
1 cup shredded cabbage (optional)

Note: there's a lot of prep here, but once that's done the cooking is quick.
1) Soak the rice noodles in warm water for 20 minutes, then drain
2) Dissolve the tamarind pulp (which is thick, stringy, and mixed with big seeds) in 3 to 4 T warm water, then press through a sieve. (If you don't have it, substitute 1 T lemon juice plus 1 T water.) Mix the resulting liquid with the soy sauce and fish sauce in a small bowl.
3) Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt in another bowl.
4) Heat a large pan (or wok, if you have it) over moderately high heat and add half the oil. Stir-fry the garlic, then add the tofu and shrimp and cook just until the shrimp are pink.
5) Add the eggs and cook until they set around the shrimp and tofu (fritatta-style). Cut into big pieces, remove from pan, and set aside.
6) Add remaining oil to the pan, then stir-fry the noodles, pressing them against the pan, turning them, and pressing them again. They start out pretty hard, but soften up in about a minute. Unless you have a really big pan, you might need to do this in two batches. Remove the noodles to your serving dish.
7) In the same pan, stir-fry the scallions, bean sprouts, and cabbage just until wilted. Add the soy sauce mixture, then the reserved fritatta pieces (break them up some now). Pour over the noodles and toss to mix everything together.

1/2 cucumber, seeded and thinly sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
4 T chopped cilantro
Chile-Vinegar Sauce: dissolve 3 T sugar in 1/2 cup rice vinegar; add 1 small hot pepper, sliced thin

Plate up the noodles and pass the accompaniments in small bowls for each person to add to his or her taste for a delicious one-dish meal.